Palestinian Authority to Sue British Government Over Balfour Declaration

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Malki, on behalf of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, announced that the PLO was making plans to sue the British over the issuance of the 1917 Balfour Declaration. For almost 100 years, the Declaration has represented, for the Palestinians, the political beginning of Palestine falling out of their influence and into the control of the budding Zionist movement. Al-Malki made his announcement about possible legal action at the end of the July 2016 Arab League summit meeting in Mauritania.

The possible law suit is one more in a series of multiple efforts by anti-Israel or anti-Zionist forces who have since Israel’s inception sought to delegitimize Israel diplomatically: at the UN, from Eastern European Soviet Bloc countries, at the International Court at The Hague, through certain Christian Church groups, at the 2001 Durban Conference against racism, and in the contemporary Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

By intentionally focusing on the Balfour Declaration, the PA seek to reinvigorate the claims of its original 1964 PLO Charter which said, that “The Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void.” The PLO Charter continued that “claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.”

The contents of the Declaration spoke specifically about “the establishing of a national home for the Jewish people and protecting the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish communities.” These phrases were included in the 1922 Articles of the Mandate, sanctioned by the League of Nations, and earlier in the 1920 San Remo Agreement of the victorious Allies of World War I, which established the status of the former Ottoman territories in the Middle East as Mandates.

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The Palestinian Distortion of the Balfour Declaration

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki has threatened to sue Britain for issuing the 1917 Balfour Declaration because, he claims, that it led to mass Jewish immigration to British Mandate Palestine “at the expense of our Palestinian people.”

The Palestinian threat is not as laughable as it sounds. It’s not unexpected either, as part of the current Palestinian strategy to exploit any law and abuse any forum to delegitimise Israel.

The Balfour Declaration, named after then-UK Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour, pledged Britain’s support for the establishment “in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” This was not intended to be at the expense of the local Arabs, whose civil rights would not be prejudiced: later, the 1936 Peel Commission proposed to partition western Palestine into an Arab, as well as a Jewish state.

“Nearly a century has passed since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917,” Malki was quoted as recently saying,”And based on this ill-omened promise hundreds of thousands of Jews were moved from Europe and elsewhere to Palestine at the expense of our Palestinian people whose parents and grandparents had lived for thousands of years on the soil of their homeland.”

Almost every word in Malki’s statement is a lie. Britain reneged on its promises to the Zionists. It gave 70 percent of Palestine to Transjordan in 1921 and curtailed Jewish emigration,  sealing the fate of countless Jews trapped in Nazi-occupied Europe.

No Arab states were enjoined to respect the civil rights of their Jewish citizens. These Jews were unceremoniously thrown out of the Arab world without apology and without compensation — and their pre-Islamic communities were destroyed.

The Palestinians say they cannot be held responsible for what happened to the Jewish refugees. While Israel can legitimately discuss Palestinian refugees in peace talks, Jewish refugees would have to address their grievances with the Arab states.

Arab League states, which instigated the 1948 war against Israel, did indeed create both sets of refugees. However, an extremist Palestinian leadership, which collaborated with the Nazis and incited anti-Jewish hatred all over the Arab world, dragged five Arab states into conflict with the new Jewish state — a conflict they lost and whose consequences they must suffer.  The Palestinian move to sue is as if Germans sued the Allies for starting World War II.

From the outset, the Palestinian cause was a pan-Arab nationalist cause. It has also a powerful Islamist, antisemitic dimension. In Arab eyes, the Jews have no claim to a single inch of “Palestine.”

Every Balfour Declaration anniversary, Arab mobs took to the streets, and the demonstrations often degenerated into full-blown riots, as in Egypt and Libya in 1945, when 130 Jews were murdered.

Not only did the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, instigate deadly disturbances in Palestine in 1920 and 1929, but he used the Balfour Declaration as a rallying cry to incite persecution against the Jews of the Arab world.

The Jerusalem Islamic Congress of 1931, called by the Mufti, was followed by violence in Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, and Aden. All this well before the creation of the state of Israel.

But the worst incitement, with the deadliest consequences, took place in Iraq: the Mufti  fled to Berlin after being implicated in a failed pro-Nazi coup, but not before he had primed the Arabs of Baghdad to unleash the Farhud of 1941. The pogrom claimed the lives of at least 179 Jews.

This was the first battle in the Palestinian war against the defenseless Jews of the Arab world. Had the Nazis been victorious, the Mufti wanted to oversee the Jews’ extermination, not just in Palestine but throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

It is these Jews who have been denied justice, the right to compensation for their loss of assets and land several times the size of Israel itself, and the human rights abuses they suffered. It is these Jews who have every right to sue those who wronged them.

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Prepare for war over the Balfour Declaration

As the centenary of the pivotal “Balfour Declaration” looms in 2017, a new group wants Britain to apologise for making it

November 2017 marks 100 years since the famous “Balfour Declaration” was made in a letter to the British Jewish community, including the famous words, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object”.

The letter started a chain of events that led, by no means smoothly, to the eventual formation of the modern state of Israel. With the advent in recent years of campaigns such as BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions), an essentially anti-Israel movement, Sabeel (Palestinian “Liberation Theology”), and a plethora of other anti-Israel organisations and groups, attempts to attribute the blame for today’s conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs have delved back into history long before 1948.

Now has arisen a group that wants Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration ever having been made. The Balfour Project claims that Britain deceived both Jews and Arabs in making the 1917 declaration in favour of a “Jewish national home” in what was then Palestine.

The Project attempts to dissect the convolutions of behind-the-scenes talks that went on during World War One, as Britain sought to undermine Turkish rule in the Middle East. By negotiating with both Jews and Arabs over the destiny of vast swathes of Ottoman territory, Britain hoped to create a friendly “bridge” between her African and Indian territories that would enable profitable trade (and Middle Eastern oil) to be cheaper through overland channels instead of the existing laborious sea routes.

So far so normal in imperial diplomacy. In attempts, however, to ensure Britain and France got the best deals from everyone involved, three sets of agreements made with interested parties collided in confusion at the close of the war. In simple terms, the McMahon/Hussein correspondence (1915) sought to buy the allegiance of the powerful Sharif of Mecca and his clan with offers of territory and power; the Sykes-Picot agreement (1917) sought to carve up part of the Ottoman Empire between Britain and France; and the Balfour Declaration (1917) sought to create a pro-British bloc in Palestine. Unfortunately, the Sykes-Picot agreement carved up territory that had already been promised to the Arabs under the McMahon correspondence.

Contrary to the claims of The Balfour Project, the area that is now Israel was under some dispute. Britain wanted to keep a coastal strip on the Mediterranean under her control, while Sharif Hussein wanted control over much of the same area. At no point was the area around Jerusalem and southwards promised to the Arabs.

It is therefore deceptive to accuse Britain of breaking a promise over an area that it had not promised at all. In fact, Hussein’s son Faisal agreed to abandon his father’s claims on Palestine when he was given Iraq to rule. Under the Sykes-Picot agreement also, most of today’s Israel was to be an international zone – again, not promised to the Arabs.

The eventual compromise gave Iraq to the Sharif’s son Faisal, Trans-Jordan to his other son Abdullah, and Lebanon and Syria to the French. The Zionists were left with the slip of land west of the Jordan River that we know today as Israel. Lebanon and Syria became the French Mandate and Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq) became the British Mandate. It is vital to recognise that the promises made to both Jews and Arabs were at least partly, if not mostly, fulfilled through the compromise arrangements.

The Balfour Project makes use of several revisionist articles to claim that Britain needs to apologise to both Jews and Arabs for its historical “balagan” (Arab for a proper foul-up), but betrays itself as another attempt at delegitimisation by its own strap-line: “Contributing to justice, peace and reconciliation in the Middle East”. As soon as you see the words “justice”, “peace”, “reconciliation” and “Middle East” in the same sentence, you know you are facing another attempt to denigrate and delegitimise the state of Israel.

The Balfour Project has already started holding meetings around the UK and while, to their credit, their meeting in Winchester included speakers opposed to the aims of the Project, most of the speakers and writers involved are also heavily connected to the BDS and delegitimisation movements, including Rev Stephen Sizer, Prof Ilan Pappe and others.

The Balfour Project aims to make sufficient impact in Britain that the Government will be forced into an apology for the Balfour Declaration on its centenary in 2017. This apology is not needed, will not contribute to peace or justice, and will not diminish the depth of feelings for and against Israel.

The Balfour Project claims it does not deny the right of Israel to exist, but Rabbi Dan Cohen-Sherbok threw a spanner in the works in his speech at the Project’s meeting in Winchester by pointing out that if the Balfour Declaration should not have been made then does that mean that the Jews should not have been offered a homeland and that Israel should not exist today?

Oops, back to the drawing board!

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Forget Sykes-Picot. It’s the Treaty of Sèvres That Explains the Modern Middle East.

Ninety-five years ago today, Europe carved up the Ottoman empire. That treaty barely lasted a year, but we’re feeling its aftershocks today.

Ninety-five years ago today, European diplomats gathered at a porcelain factory in the Paris suburb of Sèvres and signed a treaty to remake the Middle East from the ashes of the Ottoman empire. The plan collapsed so quickly we barely remember it anymore, but the short-lived Treaty of Sèvres, no less than the endlessly discussed Sykes-Picot agreement, had consequences that can still be seen today. We might do well to consider a few of them as the anniversary of this forgotten treaty quietly passes by.

In 1915, as British troops prepared to march on Istanbul by way of the Gallipoli peninsula, the government in London printed silk handkerchiefsheralding the end of the Ottoman empire. It was a bit premature (the battle of Gallipoli turned out to be one of the Ottomans’ few World War I victories) but by 1920 Britain’s confidence seemed justified: With allied troops occupying the Ottoman capital, representatives from the war’s victorious powers signed a treaty with the defeated Ottoman government that divided the empire’s lands into European spheres of influence. Sèvres internationalized Istanbul and the Bosphorus, while giving pieces of Anatolian territory to the Greeks, Kurds, Armenians, French, British, and Italians. Seeing how and why the first European plan for dividing up the Middle East failed, we can better understand the region’s present-day borders, as well as the contradictions of contemporary Kurdish nationalism and the political challenges facing modern Turkey.

 

Within a year of signing the Treaty of Sèvres, European powers began to suspect they had bitten off more than they could chew. Determined to resist foreign occupation, Ottoman officers like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk reorganized the remnants of the Ottoman army and, after several years of desperate fighting, drove out the foreign armies seeking to enforce the treaty’s terms. The result was Turkey as we recognize it today, whose new borders were officially established in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

Sèvres has been largely forgotten in the West, but it has a potent legacy in Turkey, where it has helped fuel a form of nationalist paranoia some scholars have called the “Sèvres syndrome.” Sèvres certainly plays a role in Turkey’s sensitivity over Kurdish separatism, as well as the belief that the Armenian genocide — widely used by European diplomats to justify their plans for Anatolia in 1920 — was always an anti-Turkish conspiracy rather than a matter of historical truth. Moreover, Turkey’s foundational struggle with colonial occupation left its mark in a persistent form of anti-imperial nationalism, directed first against Britain, during the Cold War against Russia, and now, quite frequently, against the United States.

But the legacy of Sèvres extends well beyond Turkey, which is precisely why we should include this treaty alongside Sykes-Picot in our history of the Middle East. It will help us challenge the widespread notion that the region’s problems all began with Europeans drawing borders on a blank map.

There’s no doubt that Europeans were happy to create borders that conformed to their own interests whenever they could get away with it. But the failure of Sèvres proves that that sometimes they couldn’t. When European statesmen tried to redraw the map of Anatolia, their efforts were forcefully defeated. In the Middle East, by contrast, Europeans succeeded in imposing borders because they had the military power to prevail over the people resisting them. Had the Syrian nationalist Yusuf al-‘Azma, another mustachioed Ottoman army officer, replicated Ataturk’s military success and defeated the French at the Battle of Maysalun, European plans for the Levant would have gone the way of Sèvres.

Would different borders have made the Middle East more stable, or perhaps less prone to sectarian violence? Not necessarily. But looking at history through the lens of the Sèvres treaty suggests a deeper point about the cause-and-effect relationship between European-drawn borders and Middle Eastern instability: the regions that ended up with borders imposed by Europe tended to be those already too weak or disorganized to successfully resist colonial occupation. Turkey didn’t become wealthier and more democratic than Syria or Iraq because it had the good fortune to get the right borders. Rather, the factors that enabled Turkey to defy European plans and draw its own borders — including an army and economic infrastructure inherited from the Ottoman empire — were some of the same ones that enabled Turkey to build a strong, centralized, European-style nation-state.

Of course, plenty of Kurdish nationalists might claim that Turkey’s borders actually are wrong. Indeed, some cite Kurdish statelessness as a fatal flaw in the region’s post-Ottoman borders. But when European imperialists tried to create a Kurdish state at Sèvres, many Kurds fought alongside Ataturk to upend the treaty. It’s a reminder that political loyalties can and do transcend national identities in ways we would do well to realize today.

The Kurdish state envisioned in the Sèvres Treaty would, crucially, have been under British control. While this appealed to some Kurdish nationalists, others found this form of British-dominated “independence” problematic. So they joined up to fight with the Turkish national movement. Particularly among religious Kurds, continued Turkish or Ottoman rule seemed preferable to Christian colonization. Other Kurds, for more practical reasons, worried that once in charge the British would inevitably support recently dispossessed Armenians seeking to return to the region. Some subsequently regretted their decision when it became clear the state they had fought to create would be significantly more Turkish — and less religious — than anticipated. But others, under varying degrees of duress, chose instead to accept the identity the new state offered them.

Many Turkish nationalists remain frightened by the way their state was destroyed by Sèvres, while many Kurdish nationalists still imagine the state they might have achieved. At the same time, today’s Turkish government extolls the virtues of Ottoman tolerance and multiculturalism, while Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan, apparently after reading the sociologist Benedict Anderson in prison, claims to have discovered that all nations are merely social constructs. The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the pro-Kurdish HDP spent much of the last decade competing to convince Kurdish voters that a vote for their party was a vote for peace — competing, that is, over which party was capable of resolving Turkey’s long-simmering conflict by creating a more stable and inclusive state. In short, as many Americans still debate the “artificial” nature of European-made states in the Middle East, Turkey is fitfully transcending a century-long obsession with proving how “real” it is.

Needless to say, the renewed violence Turkey has seen in the past several weeks threatens these fragile elements of a post-national consensus. With the AKP calling for the arrest of Kurdish political leaders and Kurdish guerrillas shooting police officers, nationalists on both sides are falling back into familiar, irreconcilable positions. For 95 years, Turkey reaped the political and economic benefits of its victory over the Treaty of Sèvres. But building on this success now requires forging a more flexible political model, one that helps render battles over borders and national identity irrelevant.

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